Please say hello to August Li and
The Kitchen Boy
Hi everybody. I’m August (Gus) Li, here to talk about the inspiration for some of the characters in my romantic fantasy novella, The Kitchen Boy, available at Dreamspinner Press.
Exploring characters is one of my favorite parts of the job. I tend to obsess over them and think about them almost constantly while I’m working. It’s one of the reasons I can only work on one book at a time—the characters take all of my attention. Most times I know everything about them—tiny details that never make it onto the page—before I start the story. It has its advantages. Because I know the characters so well, I know how they would react to various situations, and I can kind of just… let them go.
As I thought about this post and the concept that The Kitchen Boy is really a tale of several people who all think they’re doing the right thing—they just don’t agree on what the right thing is—I realized that’s a pretty common theme in my work. I guess I don’t like writing villains. I prefer conflict that arises from people misunderstanding each other or misconstruing each other’s goals or values. Certainly some characters are more morally upright than others, but especially in this book, nobody is really evil. Some are willing to cross more lines than others to achieve their goals, but they all believe that reaching those goals will benefit someone, and not just themselves.
Koehen seems like a simple man on the surface. Most of his people see him as a storybook hero—the man who united the tribes and clans of their land against a much more powerful foreign invader, organized a resistance, and gave his homeland a chance for freedom. He knows he’s a symbol, that he must continue being the figurehead his people need. It often comes at the cost of his personal desires; it’s hard to be a legend and a man at the same time. He also has secrets. He suffers physically in ways that he cannot reveal to anyone. Everyone adores him, celebrates him as a liberator, but he is lonely.
Yoli is also lonely, and he shares with Koehen the doubt that it will ever change for him. Otherwise, they couldn’t be more different. While Koehen occupies one of the highest positions in their nation, Yoli is only a kitchen servant. He’s been doing menial labor from a very young age, and he’s accepted that he’ll probably never do anything else. He has learned that hoping for more invariably leads to disappointment. So when Koehen gives him the hope for a better life, he might not be doing him as big a favor as he thinks he is. It hurts more to hope and have that hope dashed than to accept.
Vaald is my sorcerer, and he is appropriately murky. He’s less an all-powerful character and more a seer and herbalist (though he can do “actual” magic). Much of his power comes from being more educated than those around him and his keen understanding of human nature. People’s fear of him affords him the freedom to do what he wants; nobody will even bother trying to understand him. It also grants him time alone, which he relishes. He’s been a loyal friend of Koehen since they were barely grown, and he remains devoted, though he’s the one to deflate Koehen if his head starts to swell. He also likes to stir things up, often for reasons that are only clear to him. For example, he subtly guides Yoli, through teaching him to read and exposing him to certain tales and stories, to demand more for himself and use his agency. He plants the seeds of doubt in Yoli and helps him begin to gather his own power. This doesn’t make life easier for his friend, Koehen. One wonders how much he set in motion….
That’s just a quick glimpse at a few of the characters. I hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as I did.
Kitchen servant Yoli is one of only three men who know a carefully guarded secret about High Commander Koehen, the brilliant general who united their lands against a common invader. The enemy wants that secret, and they are willing to use either kindness or cruelty to obtain it.
Yoli must decide if his loyalties lie with the commander, who has shown him more affection than anyone in Yoli’s life, or with his own best interests. High Commander Koehen’s attention is capricious at best—he summons Yoli only when it is convenient for him, and Yoli knows there’s little hope of a future together. Is a glimmer of a hope for love worth sacrificing a chance for prosperity beyond his wildest dreams?
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Gus' Books are available at Dreamspinner Press, Yaoi Press, and Storm Moon Press.
Gus has much love for readers and book enthusiasts. Communication and friendship is encouraged!
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